7 Steps to Negotiating With Your Child

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By Ron Huxley, LMFT

You walk in and find your child playing computer games instead of cleaning his room. You asked him an hour ago to clean it. In frustration, you blow up, yelling at him to get his room cleaned up or “else.” He scrambles around picking up dirty clothes and toys. You stomp off. There has got to be a better way, you think to yourself.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Yelling often gets opposite results and results in a lose/lose situation. Even if you win (get him to clean his room), you lose (feel horrible for yelling). Instead parents can try using
negotiation. While, it is not a perfect tool, it will increase the cooperation desired from your child.

Negotiation is a tool that allows parents and children to make a win/win agreement. It is a learned skill and no child, that I know, is born with it. It must be modeled and reinforced by parents. But, because most parents, that I know, were children at one time or another, they were not born with it either. Therefore, here are several steps for parents to teach negotiation to your child:

Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable ahead of time. If cleaning his room after dinner is not an acceptable time because company is coming and you need the room picked up now, state firmly but gently, why it is not acceptable to wait. If it is an acceptable time to do the chores, then be flexible and make sure you are both clear on what “after dinner” really means.

Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. If your child appears grumpy and depressed take a moment to find out why. Yelling will only increase the grumps and depression, backfiring on you in moments of revenge or decreased cooperation
later.

Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. Most negotiation ends up in the blame game where there are no winners, only losers. Keep things on the specific topic and not on what happened yesterday, last month, or years ago. If you do get off track, simply steer yourself back on the right path by stating, “Let’s get back to the issue of when you are to clean your room.”

Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your child by negotiating in front of his friends. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching. Ask to talk to him in a private room or ask for the friend to go home.

Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling you are over heated, tired, or preoccupied with a hundred other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.

Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your child is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the chores. Those feelings belong to him and are valid to him even if they are not to you. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your bad day at school.” You never said it was true, just bad for him.

Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in contract form if that seems necessary.

Of course, negotiation may not be enough. Your child may still not pick up his room. If that happens set firm consequences for failure to cooperate. Remind him of the negotiation and, in the future, write everything down so there is no dispute on the agreement. When he fails to comply, point to the contract and state the consequence. This takes parents out of the uncomfortable judge and jury role. Most often, children will be testing parents to see if they mean what they say as parents have failed to follow through themselves, in the past.

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